Thoughts on Last Weekend’s YSPalooza

Two weekends ago, I took our youth leaders to YSPalooza in Philadelphia and we really liked it. So for those of you in the Dallas, TX area (and for those of thinking of 2012 already), I wanted to suggest you go too. This is ideal for youth min teams who are in somewhat normal churches. What I mean is that I have a fantastic volunteer leader team, a limited budget, and in a traditional/blended church model with a facility that does not draw in outside students (although we have a cool youth room). So, attending the National Youth Workers Conference in Nashville as a team is not going to happen for us – YSPalooza is a terrific solution.

The Challenges For Us
Even with the cost being affordable ($100 bucks now, but early bird group  was $79), to bring 10 people and find hotels still takes a bite out of the budget.
Without exception, all of our volunteers work real jobs for a living. So the 1pm Friday start time was a challenge.

Our Solutions
We started talking about this possibility back in the Fall when it was announced (thanks YS for the heads up – we needed it). Even so, for some it still came down to a last minute decision.
Though our leaders are extremely busy (which isn’t conducive to the most time and energy draining ministry of the church), our leaders are committed to this and they sacrificed the time for it.
We are taking a bite out of the budget that is reduced each year because we believe in leader training. (And if the trustees have a problem with that, they can host the next Jr. High Lock-In at their house :) By the way, an All Night Lock-In Tour at trustee houses would be a great idea).
For the leaders whose jobs made it impossible for them to miss Friday, they left at 5am Saturday morning to meet up with us for the first Saturday am session. (I told you, they were dedicated, well except for one because well you know, there’s always one :)

What I Liked:
For years, I have been a fan of YS but with the owner transitions going on the past couple years, I admit, there was a hesitation on having too high of expectations. So the first thing I want to say about the YSPalooza was that it seemed to be very YS.

The second thing I liked was the same schedule, same seminars, and same workshops for everyone. No options, no extra stuff, no one running around looking for room 303 and wondering which seminar to attend.  This format for this type of event significantly helped our conversations.

I liked that it was pretty stripped down in terms of set and signage. The bands played through the house speakers (though it was a bit loud and I found the color lights distracting but I’m not used to worshipping that way but again, it looked like it was all part of the church).

Duffy Robbins and Jim Burns still got it.

I really liked the schedule and the way it all flowed. Liked that it all ended before dinner on Saturday too. I know that it will never be perfect but I think this format works quite well.

Though not a tremendous amount, I liked the racial diversity that I saw. Also liked that Harvey Carey was a speaker there (though I think he was a bit too hard on white people. But it was funny and I can laugh because I am an Egyptian serving in a predominantly North European church).

I liked the free coffee/tea, water, soda, snacks, and professional, non-shady, body massages in between sessions.

Appreciated Mike Harder’s and Branchcreek’s hospitality. They also opened up their renovated barn that is their youth space and gave tours – it’s pretty awesome.

Wasn’t Crazy About:
I think I’m Starfielded Out. Great bunch of guys, great hearts, great music, for YS regulars though, it may be time for a change. We really liked Audrey Assad though.
The commercials for some of the sponsors were umm, well, uhh, well, they weren’t great. I did like (UthStuph’s idea of providing a meal for every shirt you buy though).

Dear Harleysville and Hatfield, PA,  You need restaurants and roads.

What I Loved
I especially loved the Learning Labs. Mark Matlock’s message on our generational trends and differences was fantastic Youth ministry needs some good doses of sociology.
Tic’s thoughts on the “10 Essential Values for a Thriving YM” was excellent, especially for newbies (and veterans who need a reminder :-)
Kara Powell’s “Sticky Faith” was great to listen to, she is an incredible presenter and the content was great.
Marv Penner’s “Helping Hurting Kids” was saddening, eye opening, and energizing. (although I always feel they should rename that to “Helping Kids Who Are Hurting”. If you didn’t know any better, it sounds like it’s a seminar on how to hurt kids further but besides that, the words and stories are powerful).

So much could be said about each presentation, they really did a great job.

I also really loved the moments of personal reflection and group discussions following many of the sessions and workshops. Some of the weekend’s best thoughts and conversations happened right there.

Again, our church is blessed with great youth leaders and as we have been going through our church-wide vision process, we have been emphasizing the need to equip our volunteers. Further, there is just something powerful and validating when a speaker echoes something that you have said to your leaders. When Mark mentioned “moral theistic deism”, one leader looked at me and thought, “Hey, I heard that before.” Another looked at me and thought, “We are so blessed to have Tim as our youth pastor” and then the other thought, “He may be an idiot, but at least he’s saying the right things sometimes.” Satisfied, I stopped reading their minds and tuned back in.

It will be interesting to see what they do next year but it’s definitely on our radar. If you can get to Dallas, the next one is this weekend. Here’s the link that has registration, schedule, and line-up and check out Tic’s message.

My Time at the Rob Bell’s Love Wins Event at the NYC Ethical Society

Monday night, my wife, Susan and good friend Tim Nye and I went in the city to see Rob Bell talk about his new book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell And the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  If you have little/no idea what I am talking about, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding this book as many have been eager to label Rob a universalist. Here’s a link to a previous post to fill you in.

It was streamed live and you can watch it right now (every so often some great-looking people show up in the crowd too :)

Let me describe the vibe of the room – it was buzzing and once again it reminded  me of that line “Rob Bell is a rock star in the evangelical world”. Don’t take it  out on Bell, it was similar to that when we went see NT Wright at Wheaton too  and that crowd was a bit older, established, educated even, etc.  Indeed the room  was filled with many appreciators of Rob. I wondered beforehand how many  critics were there given the firestorm but even during the Q&A, I didn’t get the  sense that many had come. I thought all the questions were honest (though they  may not have been great) but certainly appropriate for what everyday people are  thinking like, “Will God force an atheist into heaven?”  And for those  wondering, the questions were selected randomly.

That said, the room was a bit frustrated too. We may have laughed at the right moments, we may have all bought the book and got it signed by Rob (yep we did) but we were all hoping at some point that we could stop shrugging our shoulders. There were sighs that hoped some of the answers would start coming together and he’d offer a concise Cliff Notes summary of it. I haven’t got far in the book yet but it will be interesting to see how I feel about that after finishing it.

To some extent, we expected that. Rob has never been super-direct and while his answers are not quite as entertainingly brilliant as say, Bob Dylan, they always offered insight. When he was being interviewed by Lisa Miller (who writes for Newsweek), she asked outright, “Are you a universalist?” He laughed a little and said “No” and mentioned especially not in the sense that a gigantic arm was going to swoop up everyone (again you can watch for yourself for the exact lines).

Soon after he was asked another direct question (around the 28 minute mark) that was something to the effect of “Coming from a Jewish family, we would find it offensive for you to imply that our salvation has to come from Jesus.” I seriously wonder if anyone in evangelicalism could have had a better a Christian answer and not come across as offensive to her. It was probably my favorite moment of the night. He refereed to Moses striking the rock and providing water for the Israelites (Numbers 20) and said later, Paul describes the water from this rock as Christ (I Cor. 10). Paul does not offer much commentary there but the implication is that God has always been rescuing people. He mentions that it’s good for us to be generous when talking about such things, Jesus comes and makes the Torah speak, shows compassion, love, etc. concluding that Jesus is a paradox that we have been wrestling with for thousands of years. She seemed sincerely satisfied with that answer and frankly, I am not sure many other evangelicals could have done better in the sense of serving the asker and honoring the Lord.  Some may dismiss that as tightrope walking, others may see it as a powerful and truthful moment.

As the night continued, I saw two things. One was Rob’s pastoral heart. I believe he really cares more about people than theology (not a bad position for a pastor) and it started making more sense that this book is not theological but more pastoral (like all his other ones.  Also, know that I am not implying that he does not care about theology, clearly he does, but people seem to matter more to him. Which is a bit of a relief because NT Wright’s Surprised By Hope seems to fill that void for many of us). Two, is that I appreciated Rob’s insistence that no one really knows what’s going to happen in the next life but we trust that God is loving and just. There was a lot of talk on the Biblical character of God and you cannot blame someone who is arguing for a big, generous, loving God. He supported free will, spoke of sin and evil, spoke of the here and now of heaven and hell (I understand that he does believe that they are places in the afterlife but not in a traditional evangelical sense. This is similar to many now and many throughout church history as well) and he spoke of how he was evangelical and orthodox to his bones which I hope people took more as a profession than a cool sound byte.

Obviously so much more to say, I’ll probably watch the interview again at some point but I am more interested in the fruit of this conversation and this is not the only conversation we need to have. I know these conversations are exhausting for some and others find them senseless. I feel that they are very much worth talking about and while I probably won’t agree or understand everything that Rob is saying in this interview and in his book, I think these conversations have the potential to be very edifying for the church. If you want to read with me, grab a copy, read a bit and let’s grab a drink. Let me know.

Watch the livestream here.

And there’s a lot out there to read, here’s the Christian Post article, “Rob Bell Denies Being a Universalist”.

O Lord, Give Me Half The Faith of an Ecclesia Church-Planting Cubs Fan

Last week I was given the opportunity to attend the Ecclesia Conference in DC and it was an excellent time. For those unfamiliar with the “Ecclesia”, it’s basically a network of missionally minded churches across the country. Now, my church is not a part of Ecclesia, but my interest is more in the people and the conversations in it and that seems to be ok. Here are a few of my observations as somewhat of an outsider.

Having attended my share of conferences over the years, each gathering has a “feel” to it. This being my second time at this gathering, there were a few things I had my eye on. Of course there are the cliched jokes that we all love, it’s a room full of macbooks, moleskins, and manbags. Further, we all hate cheesy aliteration but cannot help using it from time to time either. Cool eye wear? Check. Cool jeans? Yep, not a pair of khaki’s in the house. Some of these people not only adopt kids but adopt parents – yep. In this room, it makes more sense to pay more for your XLR than your car. Most of this stuff is simply true of people in their 20’s and 30’s but you know you are not at a Southern Baptist gathering because there are tattoos, women, and amillennialists. I’m telling you, it’s a pretty cool group of people.

They are also a very welcoming group. While that is typically true of most church leader groups, if you know anything about twenty-thirty something, educated, post-evangelical, radical church planters, many of whom had difficult church congregant/pastoral experiences (catch my breath), well, you’re a bit surprised that it’s such a friendly place. As a bit of an outsider, it feels like everyone here knows everyone else. Some of these pastors and leaders have been meeting together (multiple times) for years and you can tell by the number of inside jokes (and some you know because of the social media world).

It’s a very sharp, intelligent, well-read room. Many I spoke to are/were a part of the emerging church conversation. I would assume that everyone would say that New Kind of Christian was an important book for them. So much more could be said here but I’ll leave it with, it seems that many of us in the missional church conversation have roots in the emergent/emerging church conversation.

Like I said, it’s a sharp and intelligent room so you don’t ask a question like, “Have you read any Dallas Willard?” You will get a polite answer like, “Well, sure, he was our speaker here last year and a number of us have read his books over the years …”. The question that an Ecclesist wants to ponder is more like, “What do you think Dallas Willard is thinking about right now?” “Well, JR (there are like 8 JR’s, so you never really know which one is being referred to) was just talking to him because Dallas had just update his secret Tumbler and he said Dallas has been wrestling with the idea of …”.

But they are not condescending either. This took me a while to figure out because I simply thought that they were better at being polite but this year it dawned on me – These pastors don’t have enough people or power in their church to be condescending. In some ways, I don’t really fit in this group. I admit, I can be condescending but even more, I’m not bivocational, I don’t design websites, my church doesn’t meet in a bar, and no matter how hard I try, I don’t look like Topher Grace, not even an Egyptian version of “Eric”. My church has a youth ministry, I’m one of the youth pastors, we even have a budget.

This year’s theme was spiritual formation. If you want to read on what what actually spoken about, I recommend these reflections:
Scott Emery’s, Eric Phillips, especially loved this one by Dave Kludt, the summary of tweets,
and keep an eye out on the Ecclesia site for when they post the mp3’s. A summary of tweets.

This year, I came late (though I enjoyed what I heard from Todd Hunter, found Marykate Morse’s leadership seminars to be fantastic, and loved the panel discussions from the many that shared) and I left a little early, so driving home, I reflected more on the conversations and relational elements I enjoyed those 36 hours I was there.

After some reflection, I think the greatest element that I am walking away with is that many in this gathering are very faith-led. Perhaps it’s their seminary training from Fuller, Talbot, Tibet, or it could be their collective choice in MLB teams. Which brings me to my point, “Is there anyone out there in American Christendom who has more faith than a married with children, bivocational, missional, church planter who cheers for the Cubs??? My prayer this Lent is that the Lord would give me half the faith of these people. Amen.

Reflecting on Phil Cooke’s Presentation at the Collyde Summit Part 2 – #Collyde

This was my first time hearing Phil Cooke. From all that he said, I was a bit surprised that I had not heard of him before but it’s a big world I guess.

Here’s his bio from his blog:
Phil Cooke is a writer, speaker, filmmaker, & media consultant who’s work focuses on helping clients create platforms for influencing culture and getting their voice heard. According to former CNN journalist Paula Zahn, Phil is rare – he’s a working producer in Hollywood with a Ph.D. in Theology. Christianity Today magazine calls him a “media guru” and his Change Revolution blog at is considered one of the most honest and insightful resources on the web on issues of faith, culture, and media.”

Phil does a fantastic introduction. First, he said, “My passion is to share the gospel more effectively.” In a room full of conservative evangelical leaders, that’s a winning line. Then to demonstrate evidence of a rapidly changing world, he drops this little stat, ““5 days of the NY Times is more information than people knew 100 years ago.” People at the table next to me smiled in disbelief and expressed their amazement.

From their he segued to how many churches do a poor job in articulating their identity and message. He put up pictures of bad signage and other weird Jesus moments:

Clearly, the Church has not always been clear or helpful with our great message.

Later he said, the first buildings to reopen in Afghanistan were not schools, hospitals, churches, – movie theaters. And so to cut to the chase, if we are going to have a voice to today’s generation (all across the world), we need to speak social media.

Further it is not just in articulating our message but then it has to fight all the clutter surrounding it in society. He identified clutter as the greatest thing we fight in relaying our message. From Nelson Research, the average American is bombarded with 5000 media messages a day, is connected to either television or the internet for 8hrs and 18 mins a day and sleeps 6hrs 40 mins. He then asked, who is going to win that battle? That fits so well in the sermon I am preparing at the moment (i think I’m using it.)

He discussed the difference between the Boomer and Millennial Generation (and as an X’er this is always fascinating to me). The Millennial sees the interconnectedness of media. For example, they help pick the next American Idol by sending text messages. This is hard for the Boomers to understand. I immediately thought of Doug Pagitt’s sermon collaboration/giving at Solomon’s Porch. They may be seen as odd to some now but for similar churches and youth groups that are already experimenting with this, well, church and the idea of the sermon is going to look quite different years from now.

Phil spent the second half of his presentation talking about “branding”. Even to me that’s a scary word, maybe another time, I can get into why but to cut to the chase, I think I have a fairly decent understanding of it from my time reading and discussing it at Biblical Seminary (Cohort 10! ;-) and agree that everything is branded. Whether branded poorly or well (and the many degrees in between). Everything carries a perception. And because of that – we brand in our youth ministry, our church, we even brand ourselves. I think this is an area that we need to be better stewards of and be more intentional about. (Yes, the website is an example and we all are in agreement that it needs to be radically changed professionally. Praying for change …).

Cooke gave an excellent introduction to the need for social media in the church. I need to check out some of his books to get to the deeper things. I am curious of where he agrees/disagrees with the guru of it all, Marshal McLughan and what he sounds like in comparison with people like Shane Hipps.
If you are interested in reading more from Phil, follow him on Twitter, put his blog on your RSS reader (or subscribe via email) and check out his books:
Branding Faith: Why Some Churches and Non Profits Impact Culture and Some Don’t, The Last TV Evangelist:  Why the Next Generation Couldn’t Care Less About Religious Media and a new book coming out Jolt! Get the Jump on a World That’s Constantly Changing.

Reflecting on the Collyde Summit Post 1 #Collyde

On the heels of posting on Doug Pagitt’s Church in the Inventive Age, I thought I’d post a couple thoughts on the Collyde Summit that I checked out this past Saturday. First, I am still not quite sure whose Twitter feed I found the summit through but I thought that was kinda ironic since the theme was on the use of social media in the church. It gathered about 100 or so church/ministry leaders in north Jersey. Second, Collyde is an organization started by Jinu Thomas. He shared briefly about the launch of the Collyde network and you can read a little of his story here. In short it “is a “Socially-Conscious” social network for Christians, concerned citizens, churches and ministries around the world. Collyde is a non-profit organization that is committed to channeling 100% of net profits directly to fight social and economic causes around the world”.

My first impressions of Collyde were pretty positive. Website looks great and the lineup was very impressive for such a small organization. Carlos Whittaker led a set of worship, Phil Cooke was the plenary speaker, an excellent panel discussion that I wished would have gone longer (and would have liked to have heard more from Joan Ball, she sounds like someone I’d really like to listen to).

The event began with a presentation from Lloyd Pulley who is the senior pastor of Calvary Chapel of Old Bridge. He spoke on speaking the truth in love, how society gives an incomplete truth and the role of Scripture in our lives. Most in the room probably were not hearing anything new but his presentation set the tone and was a solid anchoring point.

As mentioned, I enjoyed the panel discussion with Mike Leahy (Liquid Church’s New Brunswick Campus Pastor) Joan Ball (author of Flirting with Faith: My Spiritual Journey From Atheism to a Faith-Filled Lifeem>), Tim Abare (CEO of Big Fish Media), and Carlos Whittaker (whose daughter just broke her wrist, so please pray for her recovery). Whittaker is among the better examples of using social media. He is a gifted worship leader with a widely read blog called Ragamuffin Soul, a huge twitter following and has a personality that lends itself to social media.

Mike asked him about one of his youtube clips that made his one year old son cry – you can watch it below, over 4.5 million people have. As the story goes, it went viral, the family ended up on morning talk shows, and they promoted the beauty of adoption and allowed other Kingdom-oriented opportunities. The takeaway was in what he said in response. He said he and his wife, Heather, post constantly, blog posts, tweets, videos on youtube and of the last 5 years, that was the one that blew up. It was the result of the platform and a number of other factors, not just a funny yet sad clip. He emphasized the importance of consistency in social media.

Later Mike asked if Jesus would have used social media? (Franky, I hate this question but I suppose it needs to be asked). Joan had an excellent answer where she said, “That’s like a painter asking would Jesus use the color red? I think Jesus would simply say “Paint”. I know this is a concern for many people like the pastor who believes married people should not be on Facebook because it leads to affairs (great logic dude – what’s next? Married people shouldn’t work outside of their homes, travel, or ever leave their spouse’s side? This Thanksgiving, I am grateful that you are not a part of my local church. I know that sounds harsh and I have my own shortcomings and misstatements but I’m still recovering from a year of ridiculous comments made my pastors regarding Haiti, Obama, Muslims, and a few other topics.) Side note – Tim Abare suggested that you need to be a bit controversial in social media. If you know me, you know I say some outlandish, in border-line appropriate things regularly, I just prefer to do it in person so you can hear my the sarcasm in my voice and so I can read your body language and respond from there. I am going to experiment with Tim’s advice more ;-)

Back to the panel discussion, as it moved along, there was a lot of humility (almost a “reverence”) to the topic and I really appreciated Joan’s comment, “No one really knows how to do this – we are all figuring it out, so use it, experiment, engage …”. I admit a bit of my reticence when it comes to my social networking. I blog a few times a week, tweet a few times a day and try to overpost and comment on Facebook for a number of reasons including, “This pastor is on his computer all day when he should be with people, praying, teaching teens, being more missional, with his family, waxing the steeple, etc.” And being a multi-tasker I do all those things simultaneously despite that we are a church that doesn’t actually have a steeple. But like everyone has said repeatedly, this is where people are many hours a day and pastors need to have a presence on here as well.

Phil Cooke was fantastic and I’ll have to blog about him another time.

Reflecting on my First Time at the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers (2003!) #NYWC

The Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention took place this past weekend Nashville, will conclude today and this is the second year in many that I have missed it. YS has been a very important place/organization/community for me over the years and here’s why.

Flashback to 2003. I was in my first church burning out. Having been in the ministry for three years then and for a number of reasons that I won’t mention here, I really felt the need to be among other youth workers, hear from Mike Yaconelli and many other speakers that I did not know at the time. 2003 was the year I read New Kind of Christian, Postmodern Youth Ministry,and Dangerous Wonder. (I do want to be careful here and mention it’s not the simple reading of books that is so life-impacting; it’s more the prayerful search for something, not finding it, then finding it. And it is the direction, not so much the answer and it’s not only contained in books, music, art, friendships, it’s everywhere because God is sovereign over all. Just wanted to clarify ;-))

That year, YS gave free registrations to those who had brought their youth groups to DC/LA and as one who did not have an adequate youth ministry budget nor was given the blessing of those in authority over me to attend, (A real quote, “Not only will I not give you the time to go, but I know you won’t like it”). I used my vacation time, Priceline, headed to Charlotte and met up with my friends Joel and Todd. What I didn’t expect was just how much I would like it.

I could list the existential moments like driving down with Switchfoot’s Beautiful Letdown. Hearing Jon Foreman yell, “Are you who you want to be? This is your life …”, hearing the David Crowder Band lead, “You Are My Joy”, and attending an evening “brotherly discussion” and thinking, “Thank God for Tony Jones“. (Duffy Robbins was the other speaker in the discussion and I thank God for him too; I’ve been among the many who have profited from both men. It’s just that people like Tony were not only speaking my language but creating the language that I was trying to verbalize). Then on Monday as it was all ending I ran into Mike Yaconelli after he had finished speaking at the final session (which is still a bit eery because he would be killed in a car accident two days later). I know how this all sounds, cheesy with the Switchfoot reference, emotional with the Crowder sing-along, and fanboyish with the homage to TJ and Yac but it’s what it is.

I was also fortunate enough to take advantage of the free career counseling that YS offered through veteran youth pastors. I’ll spare you from that too but I still consider it to be among the most affirming, life-altering words of advice anyone has ever given me. The entire event was much-needed and all I know is that I drove north with a bit of my mojo back (yep, we were quoting Austin Power’s then).

This weekend I have been thinking and praying for those in attendance in Nashville, especially for the first-time attendees and for those who desperately need to be refreshed (and this may include the speakers/teachers themselves). From the Twitter feeds and blog posts, it sounded great and my hope is that many are getting back into the cars and boarding planes different than when they walked up to the registration tables just days ago.

It also seems fitting to express my gratitude for Youth Specialties and the incredible people who work there. They have been through so much these last few years and from what I can see through the words of people like Tic Long and the web presence of Adam McLane, God is very much at work there.

Reflecting on Being at the Grapevine Project This Weekend

This past weekend I was one of the workshop speakers at the Grapevine Project. Their mission “is to glorify God by equipping the Second Generation to develop true identity, spiritual maturity, and the skills for discipleship so that they are strengthened forministry in their local churches and communities.”

I first became aware of GP after speaking at a Middle Eastern Church Conference for their College and Career age back in 2007. Between seminary and then kids (praise the Lord for both!), I could never make it out. This year worked out differently and with the blessing of my local community, I was set to go and was asked two give two workshops – one on purity and the other on missional living which was framed by the question, “With all the stress in our everyday lives, how can we live out the mandates of Scripture like worship and serving others?”

Things like Grapevine are important to me because I really wish there was something like this when I was growing up. By focusing specifically on the first and second generation middle-eastern students – a lot can happen potentially.   As any immigrant family knows, there is a great deal of cultural identity searching in addition to the other identity searching that adolescence and adulthood bring. I am so grateful for people like Khalaf, Ash, Maya, Tala, Mark, their families, and the many others including all the small group leaders that have served this need for the last 5 years.

There was a lot I found at Grapevine regarding their hopes and dreams and wonderful moments and conversations I had over the weekend and I’d like to post more but here’s a little bit of what I found:

The value of relationships. This is not new of course, but rather encouraging. It’s always a big thing to me when I hear people say, “It’s all about relationships here.” Of course some people flippantly use that in the same way selfish people say, “I like to help people” but when you see a place that thrives on relationships, you believe it. This weekend I saw so many that gathered to reconnect, share the stories of their recent past and further their relationship with God. As an outsider, this was pretty obvious.

However, even though I was an outsider, I was so encouraged by the unity I found in the body of Christ. Three things struck me. One was our worship. Led by a young twenty something named Mark (who led worship at the conference I spoke at back in 2007) and his friends from Taylor University, I felt that unity of the Body. Second was in Khalaf’s teaching. Khalaf is a fantastic speaker, a recent MDIV grad, and has a full-time career in Microsoft Training. He’s a couple years older than me and we connected on the “stuck between two generations” thing, as well as of course the middle-eastern connection. It was helpful to me that he said a number of things that I normally say and my workshops seemed to reemphasize his main session points. That’s a cool thing when you don’t know each other and haven’t planned that.  And third, I got to meet some great people. Though you cannot maintain great relationships with everyone, in the Facebook age, you can still keep in some type of touch. There were a couple other things that I wrote down in my journal – I was reminded by the importance of inter-generational ministry and inter-cultural ministry which deserve their own posts.

Lastly though I was motivated further to work in my local context to which the Lord has called me to. It’s here in my local church in Montvale (and to a certain extent, the youth group at my first church) that many thoughts and ideas are birthed. It’s our students that have to hear the illustrations that don’t work before the ones that do take some shape. It’s through them and our leaders here that have provided countless stories and other thoughts and ideas and I find myself grateful for that. it’s always nice to get away, speak, and hope to be a blessing to others, but it’s so good to be rooted some place where you can come back, share life together, and hopefully be a blessing (and be blessed as well).

I hope to get back to Grapevine and would be great to either organize an event here or bring a couple church groups out there. We’ll see what happens.

More from the Grapevine Project’s Mission:  Over the years many families have moved from the Middle East to North America, seeking opportunities and a better way of life. These immigrants brought their faith and their traditions, and began to establish churches similar in form to what they had left behind. These First Generation believers worship the Lord with all sincerity of heart, and continue to do so to this day.

The children of these immigrants, the Second Generation, have much in common with their parents. Yet being born here and growing up in a world unlike that of their parents has shaped them differently. … Over the past ten years the Lord as laid a burden on the hearts of many people to effectively reach the Second Generation and nurture them to spiritual maturity in Christ, in effect “reconnecting” them to the True Vine.

Check out their site here.


I know it’s taken a while to post these but the content is free so …
Day 3 at Q was a quick one.
There were some presentations I was really looking forward to.
Among them was:
The Humanity of the Robot – Rosalind Picard
Show me another ministry conference that talks about this (aside from an apocalyptic warning of AI)
Rosalind explained the reasoning of building machines with emotional intelligence
“We definitely need to create robots that help us. Especially for those who have emotional and mental challenges.”
We are giving computers mechanisms that perform emotion like functions
They do not give a machine feelings that we have.
She told us to beware of the semantis
What scientist says – “Machines are now being give internal signaling” – What press writes – “Machines have feelings!”
How can you give machines emotion? That’s the last thing that separates people from machines!?”
Scientists do not yet see any way to give robots: Feelings (including moral sense), Consciousness experience, Soul, Spirit, Juice of life, Free will – free choice …
But what if we could build a robot that was just like a human?  And her time was up.
Colaborating in Community – Charles Lee
Charles also gave an excellent presentation.  Great ideas and he’s one of those people whose enthusiastic energy is not annoying but instead, contagious.
You should check out his website Ideation and follow him on twitter.  (And he loves the Yankees so you know he is a good person).
Here were some of the notes:
The more time we spend with collaborators, implementation will finally take place.
As much as you love ideas, you must love implementation.
For some, their pride gets in the way of collaboration.
Social media is powerful when it is social. – Crowd is smarter than one.
Internet flattened the world.
if you openly share, the speed of which implementation takes place increase exponentially.
Nurture ideas.
Listening – strategy (to allow wisdom to come from people, the street, as oppose to the boardroom)
“I have postured my life to connect with people.”
Lee said more, and when I clean my notes and post them.
Loved it though, inspired by it, hope to be altered by it.
Bonhoeffer – Eric Metaxas
He is the author of biographes on William Wilberforce and now one on Deitrcich Bonhoeffer.  NYC metro people will know him from Socrates in the City events he hosts. One coming in 2 weeks.
Sadly, Eric was only given 9 minutes.  Eric is absolutely brilliant and so fun to listen to.  (He also presented when Q came to NYC.  (Kinda weird, he was presenting when my wife Susan sent me the text saying, “Just spoke with birth mom – she wants us to adopt her baby!!!”  I’ll never forget it, Mextas was presenting, Rebecah Lyons was sitting to my left, Chris Huertz was sitting behind me at my table (he doesn’t know who I am but he’s a bystander to the story) and there was a choir of angels that appeared and sang the Hallelujah chorus.  I don’t think anyone remembers that but it’s my blog – that’s what I saw ;-)  And yeah, all this came to mind again as Eric shared about Bonhoeffer.
But if you do the Lost style flash back here in the Chicago timeline, Eric also said:
That Bonhoeffer warned against religionless Christianity
Eric asked, what does it look like to be a Christian today?
DB lived in such obedience to God that it just sings
God wants us to integrate.
God can’t be fooled by the fig leaf
Social Activism – Antonio Carlos Costa
Antonio is a pastor/activist from Brazil.  It was incredible to listen to Antonio.  We hear so much of the growth of the church in the global south, it was sobering to hear the challenges they face.  Another example of the church’s resilience when pushed to the brink.
He said that  violence is the most serious problem facing Brazil
For every 100000 people:
in Italy 1 dies
in Chile 1.7 die
in US 5.5 die
in Rio 40 die
We have corrupt police and very violent criminals.
What does it mean to be faithful to the Christian gospel in such a  context marked by so much injustice and violence?
Faith without works is dead  – we need love.
The fight for human life is a result of human love.
Obstacles in Brazil
Brazil does not have a culture of popular participation
Evangelicals lack credibility
No historical reference for the human rights movement
Pluralistic worldviews
Recent practices
In response they have used the power of images, utilized social media and have done so with integrity.  They pursue matters of that deal with public safety.
We are confident that if our speech has was just riddle with evangelical vocabulary, we would only taking today instead of the four walls of our church
I had to leave after this presentation and missed one from Wayne Gordon – Renewing the City (he’s from Portland where Q will be next year) and one by Jon Tyson (church planter in NYC and all around good guy) – Advancing the Common Good.  I hope to catch them online when they become available.

Thoughts & Highlights on the Q Event Day 2 #qideas

Q Conference
Day 2

What better way to open the first morning presentation than with …

Recovering the Ancient Practices – Phyllis Tickle
“In the busyness of life today, many Christians lose sight of the disciplines, or practices, that keep them grounded.”
As always, she is awesome.
Some favorite lines – “Jesus tells us to fast – why? Because it makes us feel bad – lol.
(Fasting reminds us of our mortality. Fasting draws us in to, our energy wanes and we are confronted by the truth. It is an opportunity for us to meet the Kingdom.)
It’s only when I am confronted my citizenship that I can understand the Kingdom.
There is a rhythm of life and fixed hour prayer is a way of hinging our day on the worship of God. She mentioned an iPhone app. I think it was this one.
Of all the disciplines, she believed that fixed hour prayer is the most important.
She quoted a rabbi that said, it’s the prayers you say, not the ones you don’t that God really cares about. (That actually does help in not turning into a guilt-ridden ritual).
Of the disciplines, sabbath keeping and fixed hour prayer have been difficult for me. I found this convicting and helpful.
I like what she said about “Pilgrimages” – you take all of you and your expenses and go. One of the things contemporary christianity lacks is transcendence –
we can do so with music, literature, but true transcendence a pilgrimage.

Observing the Sabbath – Matthew Sleeth
Q must have got some feedback that asked for more spiritual formation.
Are today’s believers meant to keep the Sabbath?
I liked Matthew’s idea of 24-6 (as opposed to 24-7).
Sabbath not saved by man. – We are not to save the Sabbath – The Sabbath is to save us.
5000 Years of debate of what is work – Rest “figure out what’s work for you and don’t do it.” (Matthew’s wife)
if you keep sabbath for life – you added 11 years with the Lord.
We spent the last minute and change in silence (a tithe of the presentation to sabbath. Cool idea).

Overcoming the Faith and Science Divide – Alister McGrath
I love the faith and science discussion.
In addition to encouraging everyone to engage the sciences, he also encouraged to familiarize ourselves with the views and arguments that argued against faith (like Dawkins’ God Delusion and other new atheists). Lucky for me, I like these books (they strengthen your faith).
One of the reasons why they new atheists are angry. Because they believed that religious belief would have died out within the last 40 hours. “When I read Dawkins, I cannot help but feel nostalgic, that’s the way I used to be as well.” – haha
Encourage – we need scientists to up their game. – They need support.
Think of how we can support scientists from the church.

Don’t Eat the Food – Sean Womack
A very powerful and emotional presentation. It’s nice to see that cutting edge thought is not just confined to stats and ideas.
Forgiveness is cutting edge.
Sean revealed that he had been let go by Wal Mart for having an affair with his boss.
After separated for 3 months from his wife and 3 children, she forgave him. She told him, “I am not just praying for you, I’m battling for you.”
Don’t eat the food (of the world) – Jesus said eat my flesh.
The last 3 years have been difficult
H addressed his wife, – thanks for battling for me, thanks for banging on the gates of hell and demanding your husband back. Every morning I wake up, I wake up next to grace.
I guess I walked away thinking, may God spare us from such an experience but it was beautiful to see the power of love and forgiveness.

Resetting a Creative Economy – Richard Florida
One of my favorite presentations of the event.
“Every human being is creative.”
Florida doesn’t believe we are in a recession but instead in need of a reset – a raw emotional reset.
He looked at other time periods including just before the Industrial Revolution.
He would argue that our creative energy is that makes us human and binds us together.
We have created a new kind of economy that harnesses the human mind – that’s the easy part.
We are moving into a new of post-materialism.
We use to ask what you do for a living, now we ask where do you live?
Being in a place that you love. – in community – Whose Your City? (example used was Jack White from Detroit, now living in Nashville but I didn’t want to stand up and correct Florida in front of everyone. I understood his point. But I had to chuckle now because of the irony of White living in Nashville. Or is it irony?
It’s the place we live that will create meaning
There was a lot I liked about the end, because I see a strong connection with where we live and “Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

Responding to Our Fatherhood Crisis – Roland Warren
As a new father, as a youth pastor, and as one who sees the state of fatherhood in crisis, I was really looking forward to this presentation.
“The concept of the heavenly father is a Christian idea.But this is an anathema for someone who didn’t grow up with a father (or had a bad one).”
“You fix the fathers you fix the church,you fix the fathers you fix the community ”
I really enjoyed the presentation but was hoping for a little more. I am sure Roland had plenty more to say but again, it’s tough because of the time restraint.
I should google him and see what else he has.

There was a panel discussion on adoption and orphans
John Sowers – Mentoring project
Esther Fleece – Focus on the family
Marc Andrews – Bethany Christian Services
Jason L –

127,000 legal orphans
300,000 churches
“Wait No More” program

500,000 kids in the foster care system
countless age out – turn 18

As adoptive parents, this is obviously something that is important to us. As I was listening, it dawned on me that although Susan and I had been asked numerous times about adoption, we do not know anyone who has adopted since we have two years ago. This caused me to think that perhaps I ought to do my part in creating more awareness to the need.

Discover the Rescued with Soledad O’Brien | CNN and Jonathan Olinger | Discover The Journey
The 7.0 earthquake in Haiti devastated millions of lives. Compassion-fatigued American’s have become over saturated. The natural questions ensue. Can Haiti change? Is there hope for Haiti’s most vulnerable children? Through the power of a documentary platform, the lives of two Haitian orphans are elevated and their stories told. CNN Correspondent Soledad O’Brien and Discover The Journey’s Jonathan Olinger open the world’s eyes to the complexities of caring for children in the midst of one of the greatest disasters the world has ever seen.

In short, Jonathan was shooting a documentary and then the earthquake happened. If I have the story right, Soledad became involved just after flying down to cover the aftermath of the quake and then connected with Jonathan’s story. Gabe interviewed them both and this was the most beautiful and my favorite part of the interview:

Gabe – How do you handle all the suffering?
Soledad – I cry a lot but I channel it through my vehicle.
Once you get numb to human suffering, that’s the beginning of the end …

The documentary this past Saturday night but I was unable to watch it. I am trying to obtain a copy or if it’s online somewhere. Seems worth watching.


I’ll post separately on Conversations on Being a Heretic. It was Scot McKnight interviewing Brian McLaren. It was great, too short, and grateful that both are brothers of mine in the Lord.

Thoughts & Highlights on the Q Event Day 1 #qideas

This is my third year at Q and this gathering has been the most helpful to me. Being a youth pastor, you’d think it would be something like youth specialties (whom I love). Having attended emergent gatherings, willow creek leadership simulcasts, and numerous other events, I have found Q to be somewhat unique. To put it simply, there are channels of conversation that I simply do not have access to. After 10 years of ministry, being in conversation with other pastors, following periodicals like Christianity Today, and being online, you can stay pretty in tune with what’s going on in the “ministry world”. While Q puts out many elements of church ministry, they also pull a wealth of conversation from the other 6 channels of culture (Education, Political, Business, Media, Government, and the Arts).  The idea is to bring the 7 channels together and engage by asking questions and creating conversations relevant to the Gospel.

In previous years, the Q Conference was held in Atlanta, New York City, Austin and this year was Chicago’s turn. Gabe and friends pick great venues in city centers that are rich in culture. This year was the Lyric Civic Opera House.

From the website, “Q educates church and cultural leaders on their role and opportunity to embody the Gospel in public life.  We believe that exposure to old and new ideas is the best way to stimulate imagination for ways the Gospel can be expressed within our cultural context.”

That’s my best explanation for what Q is.  You can read more of the history of Gabe Lyons and the Fermi Project here.

I may use Evan’s idea from the NT Wright conference, and attach my notes soon but I need to clean them up. In a few months will actually post the presentations online, I hope you watch them for yourself.

Some personal thoughts, notes and sentiments as I attended Q:

Who Attends Q?
I love when a conference reveals who is in the room.
Would have appreciated if the ethnicity stat was mentioned.
Like most of these events, it’s a pretty white room. A very small percentage of minorities. In fact, there may have been more non-Anglo presenters then actual attenders (I write that as a compliment to the Fermi Leadership). It’s not the fault of anyone, I’m just saying …
Btw, it was cool that i wasn’t the only Egyptian in the room (salem alek Victor).
Surprised more people aren’t into e-readers.
There were a lot of liars in the room too. I mean all these people saying they are on twitter and the hashtag only had like 30 people. Probably bc there was only one open wifi network.

The Decline of Christian America by – David Aikman
Excellent presentation.
Appreicated the mention of the Newsweek article “The End of Christian America by Meacham”. I remember reading that.
Couldn’t agree more with the average nominal Christian has terrible misunderstandings of Christianity.
I confess that I get tired of the Barna stats. Surprised he didn’t use more of Kinnaman or Christian Smith’s research.
Appreciated the Chinese church comparisons.
Couldn’t agree more about the intelligencia – gatekeepers wake up, it’s time communicate with the tehno-generation.
Didn’t really “learn” anything but there was only 18 minutes, it’s an excellent start to the conference
“Time to get our faith out of rigor mortis and bring alive the faith that changed us”


The Both/And of the Gospel by Tim Keller
While I thought Tim Keel did an amazing job at discussing the Gospel at last year’s Q in Austin (you can watch it here), Keller was the perfect choice for this presentation. To me, it feels like Q is still a pretty conservative room. I think I could still feel the sentiment in some pastors’ minds, “Keep your missional hands off my gospel”.
“Like it or not – justification and justice are joined at the hip” – justice people who are separating themselves from justification by faith are neglecting a powerful and important tradition.
Justification by faith leads to justice – justice leads to God
If you claimed that you are justified by faith you must demonstrate justice.
When Tim Keller is talking about taking care of the poor (which is not new for him and many other traditional types), the traditional church will respond more. I think I heard someone think, “Crap, now Keller is reading that Shane Claiborne guy.” Either that or the BIble.


Q has a series of 3 minute promotions. They’re like commercials and plugs for new ministries. Many of them are excellent and worth paying attention to.
Halogen TV. is worth checking out.


The Next Christians – Gabe Lyons
“Instead of being offended by what we encounter in our world, we must be provoked to get involved.”
Liked the letter to Diogentus –
Provoked by the line “People don’t care about all people, just most of the people.” – ouch.
Was moved by the story of their first born being born with down-syndrome. They created a campaign of what this child can look like. They put these wonderful materials in doctors’ offices and offered help for others. Beautiful.
Money quote – * I think what the soul is to the body is what we as christians can be in the world


The Future of Education – Sajan George
The problem with education is that we assume this linear pipeline from K-12, they will
somehow all be ready for the adult workplace – amen.
Sajan speaks at breakneck speeds. He needs to be a 36 min. presentation in the future – he’s that good and has that much material.
That and someone that is taking notes needs to take control of his clicking speed through the presentation. If you have ever been to a U2 show when they bombard you with milisecond images and words, that’s how Sajan’s presentation feels, only without the Claw Stage and no sunglasses.
“We need a new standard of teachers that are better.”
it is not a funding problem
it is not just a human capital problem
it is a design problem
The Gospel must motivate us to act.
Called for a more technology-enabled student centric school.
Longitudinal data systems that help how we monitor students
Common core international standards “what we teach”
Excellent quote – “History has shown whenever the gospel is embraced, the future is always beautiful.”
Loved it!


Evolution of a Voice – Bryan Coley
Excellent presentation that this blog post won’t do justice towards. I cannot wait to watch this presentation again.
He used a linear chart to show how particular voices used culture to speak. In this case, movies.
So, the evolution of the African-American voice in movies in the 1960’s where they were referenced (the, “Hey That’s Me” voice) to movies that said, “Hear Me” in subculture classics “Shaft”.
Eventually there is a tipping point between the sub-culture and main stream and for Black Americans it was “The Color Purple”.
Mainstream movies emerge in the 80’s that say, “I’m just like you” and examples of these movies were Eddie Murphy classics (white movies with black men), shows like the Cosby Show, and eventually there is a cultural impact, in this case the 90’s with the voice that says, “I’m like you but you’re different”. An example would be Boyz in the Hood.
The new millennium brought a new voice that said, “I am without you” that was diversified and integrated. Examples are Tyler Perry movies, movies like Hitch with Will Smith and Morggan Freeman who plays God and a president.
Today we have a black president – it was a brilliant connection.
He did the same with movies that represented gay culture and Christian culture.
He quoted a movie producer that made this comment after the success of “Blindside”, ” I would put more Christians on screen but I want to see Christians stop portraying themselves as perfect.”
Bryan concluded his time by saying, It is more important to present a Christian as a human. In this next phase – tell the truth.”


Being Provoked to Engage – Joe Saxton
Jo did an incredible job on this presentation –
Leaders need to be challenged to engage when provoked instead of withdrawing from problems (young leaders need to learn this, older need to be reminded).
We need to choose to be the rescue team.
Jo defined enormous life problems as “cultural earthquakes” – very timely.
The needs in responding to cultural earthquakes are compassion, community, a connecting story, and a compass.
She then put a picture of her, her sister and her foster mother and asked, “Would you have found me in the rubble?” Because she was lost and buried in it and needed a great deal of help. It was a brilliant turn in the presentation – instead of presenting as the hero, she presented as the rescued, who in turn committed to rescue others.  I was moved, she was brilliant.
She asked that we challenge our current paradigms.
Are we leaving 60 percent of American under the rubble by the way we do church?
“We don’t need to be afraid, we need to be the rescue team.”


Did Jesus Preach the Gospel? – Scot McKnight
While visiting South Africa, Scot asked his guide what he thought when he visited the States.
The guide said everywhere he went, everything was the same. The media has taken over, and have made everything the same place
Everyplace becomes no place – When no place becomes every place every sacred place becomes no place – loved it.
When all words mean the same thing, no words mean anything?
Is this true when applied to the word gospel?
Did Jesus preach the gospel?
The text has disappeared under the interpretation – Nietzsche
Told a story about a pastor he bumped into at an airport. Scot asked him if Jesus knew the gospel. Because the pastor only understood the gospel as crucified for sins and resurrection, he argued that Jesus could not know the gospel.
Scot replied with one of the best lines of the conferences, “Too bad for Jesus, He was born on the wrong side of the cross.”
We as evangelicals created a personal salvation culture at the expense of the gospel.
who is in, who is out
We have lost the meaning of the gospel
When all words mean personal salvation, no words mean anything
According to paul and the herald the story of israel as coming to climax with Jesus the Messiah as Lord.
To herald the story of Jesus the Messiah
See my notes for the rest – it was excellent.

Saving Marriage Before It Starts – Mark Regnerus
Christianity Today readers may remember this article .
It has become culturally difficult to delay sex until marriage
Thesis – Price of sex has dropped to an all-time low
1. men want sex more than women
2. all sex within a community is connected with a community
She has something of value, he doesn’t. – women (mostly) don’t pay for sex.
When does sex start in a relationship (unmarried, 18-23)
It starts when she decides that it does.
The price of sex is set by women, it is often negotiated by men
She may charge (no sex until you give me a complete promise at the altar to commit to me for the rest of your life) can she get that today?
92 percent of people have sex before marriage.
Today we find ourselves winking at sex and having to justify getting married
Reasons why couples are getting married later.
1. why we are getting married later
2. men’s decreasing cost of sex
3. shifting nature of labor market
4. availability of high speed digital porn – least influential
5. women’s success
When the price of sex is so low, they will delay marriage
The message becomes what you do when the best years of your life is over.
Excellent topic – very helpful for my ministry. I went to his talk-back session and while I want to push back on a few things (he tends to shift most of the responsibility to women), his thesis is helfpul.

That evening, there was a panel discussion on Scripture with Alister  McGrath, Brian McLaren, Father Dempsey Rosales-Acosta and Tim  Keller.  It is heavy in context so to debrief in this space would be  inadequate but I will say it was an excellent discussion.  There were  parts that I was not able to connect with and parts that I cheered  (sometimes said by the same person).  I look forward in listening to  this conversation again.